Wednesday, 20 September 2017

The Role of Digital Media in the Preservation of Historical Sites and Buildings

Guest post by Matt J. 
     -writer for Ranger Roofing of Oklahoma, specialized in home improvement and construction
Edited by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

Digital media has taken the world by the storm as countless new platforms pop up every few months. Both conventional media such as television, radio and newspaper and new media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter are ultimately shaping our reality, often without us even realizing it. They construct a so-called pseudo reality which results in shaping how people view something; for example, TV and the Hollywood industry “invented“ a typical American high school experience and regularly portrayed it in a certain way. This resulted in the rest of the world having a distorted picture of American high school students and life. 

This example is a proof that digital media, for sure, has an influence.  It became an instrument of socialization, education and informing, so its impact is undoubtedly verifiable.  However, the question that remains is what type of influence media has and how the media industry is using that power?

To show the power of media and its responsibility, we will use historic buildings as an example. So first, let's analyze the importance of historic sites and its preservation. While technology is advancing and developing, somehow, new buildings and cars tend to break down sooner than old ones. Historic buildings have a high intrinsic value due to their infrastructure. They were mostly built from high-quality materials that are no longer available on the modern market. Let's change the perspective; thousands of historic sites and buildings survived the highest speed winds while newer buildings were severely damaged. Therefore, many old historic buildings have a potential to become a safe spot for offices or companies.

All Saints Anglican Church in Winnipeg was impacted by the 1950 flood
yet stands unfazed today at 175 Colony Street, over 90 years after it first opened.
Destroying a historic building can also mean annihilating all the hidden gems inside that we don't know about. Old buildings were once in use; therefore, signs of life we don't know anything about are all around. However, they might be hidden somewhere waiting for us to discover. Ruining the property can mean a destruction of valuable historical artifacts that might offer us a new perspective on some period in history.

Maintaining a historical site should be an obligation since historical sites can provide economic value. The heritage tourism sector exists because of historic sites and buildings that have architectural features such as facades, copper roofs, enchanting ornaments, ancient building methods and social history. Therefore, preserving historic sites and buildings have a wider impact than we think.

How is media involved in the preservation of historical sites and buildings?

Let's go back to our question; what type of influence does media has? There are numerous theories giving answers to this question. Some claim that digital media doesn't have an influence as much as everybody thinks. Some argue that media doesn't have an impact at all since people are not passive, and some believe that media has a particular, but not unlimited affect on people.

The last theory, limited influence is the most appropriate one. It explains that digital media might not determine how we think of something, but it certainly does decide what we think about. Therefore, digital media and journalists cannot make us support something, but they inevitably make us think about something. This is something called agenda-setting; the media industry raises awareness over certain topics and makes people revolve around that subject.

Now how is this related to preservation of historic buildings? Well, if media sets what we think about, then it can help in conservation simply by motivating people to consider historic buildings and their immense value. Therefore, if digital media enhances the importance of historical sites, people will be more interested in that topic and will even do their research. Unfortunately, low representation of historical sites in the media is not helping in preservation at all.  There is an abundance of articles and reports on tallest skyscrapers, new skyscrapers but little about ancient building materials or conservation of character defining elements.

The Union Bank Tower at 504 Main Street in Winnipeg is western Canada's first skyscraper,
built in 1903-04 with steel frame technology, it still stands today, reaching up ten stories into the sky.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Special Collection Archives,
When it comes to historical sites, visual presentation might be crucial. If a TV program would feature more visually attractive video shots of historical buildings and newspapers would produce high-quality captivating photos, then it would catch one's attention. There should also be more materials that promote and advertise organizations or actions that work on protecting, preserving and sustain historic properties. Also funding projects that are related to historical sites or organizing events and conferences about the conservation of our cultural heritage.

New digital platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) became highly intertwined with conventional media. So, their power is proliferating, and they have an enormous influence on what traditional media will broadcast. Facebook is one of the most prominent platform for promoting organizations or event- it reaches a massive audience and motivates TV, radio, and newspaper to mention the event, article or project that is viral at the moment.

The media industry became one of the most influential industries, constructing our reality article by article. However, focusing more on sensationalism and neglecting the protection of built heritage has an adverse impact on our society and preservation. Media moguls and entrepreneurs should ask themselves what really matters? They need to distinguish profit and societal worth.

Heritage Winnipeg recognizes the importance of digital media as a tool to both preserve and promote heritage. In addition to a making use of a website ( and social media (,,, Heritage Winnipeg has a blog. Started in 2014, the blog is an effective means of bringing timely attention to heritage issues in a timely manner. It gives heritage a context, stressing the importance of conserving the cultural history of Winnipeg.

Heritage Winnipeg's Blog was started in 2004 to
provide timely information on heritage issues in Winnipeg.

Heritage Winnipeg has also worked on several digital heritage projects. The first endeavor, the Virtual Heritage Winnipeg site in 2004, ( is a repository of over 3000 digital photographs that document the history of Winnipeg from its inception at the end of the fur trading era. Visitors can use the virtual tour feature to wander through buildings in the Exchange District, a national historic site, learning about the historic buildings and experiencing a 360 degree view of some of the interiors that have remained largely unchanged for over a century. The gallery feature allows visitors to search through thousands of photos, finding countless fascinating images of Winnipeg’s past. There are also 170 vignettes that illuminate Winnipeg’s built heritage through photographs and stories.

The Virtual Heritage Winnipeg website uses digital media to
preserve and promote Winnipeg's built heritage.
Building on the success of the Virtual Heritage Winnipeg site, Heritage Winnipeg is now working to exhibit Winnipeg’s outstanding heritage on a national scale. Recently, Heritage Winnipeg’s application to the Virtual Museum of Canada was approved, making way for the creation of a virtual exhibit to be promoted on a national scale. Educators, students, professionals, community leaders and enthusiasts alike will be able to use the tools in the exhibit to identify architectural traditions and styles and understand the role they played in shaping the country. It will also include an interactive feature, allowing visitors to upload images of their favourite architecture. Once complete, the digital exhibit will be accessible through the Virtual Museum of Canada's website ( and Heritage Winnipeg's website (

Built heritage and digital media have a lot in common, both constantly morphing as they race into the future, striving to meet the demands of today's society. Digital media allows for built heritage to remain at the forefront of peoples’ minds, shinning a spotlight on structures that are all to often forgotten until it is too late. It peaks peoples’ interest and reminds them that heritage is all around us, and full of stories that shaped the world we live in today. Additionally, digital media is constantly finding new and inventive ways to preserve a record of the past, ensuring generations to come will be able to enjoy the built heritage that serves as the foundation for our modern and progressive cities.

Monday, 11 September 2017

Historic Roof Preservation Around the Globe

Guest post "Historic Roofs around the Globe" and "Historic Roof Preservation" by Matt
     -writer for Georgia Roof Pro of Georgia, specializing in home improvement, construction and home design
Edited by Cheryl Mann, on behalf of Heritage Winnipeg

One of the most important components of the construction is the roof. It determines the overall aesthetics of the building and slowly emerges to a trademark of particular architectural design. Historic roofs represent a time in history and, in a way, reproduce a story of people during that period. It reflects nation's knowledge at one point in history, their preferences and general atmosphere.

Architecture is one of many factors that show how noble, successful or wealthy a nation was, therefore, roofs detain a social element. Not every building was able to have a copper or zinc roof with attractive patina, so from today's perspective, we can find out a lot about a nation by analyzing different elements of constructions including roofs.

Listed below, you will find some of the most compelling historical buildings with notable roofing systems.

The Slate Roof House

The Slate Roof House was built around 1687 and became famous as the short-term residence of William Penn. Penn was the founder of Pennsylvania and an influential English businessman who spent about two years in the Slate Roof House. The house was easily distinguished from others by its enchanting slate roof and overwhelming size. Slate roofs were not typical during that period in Philadelphia, so slate roof house became an object of admiration. It is also famous for being a site where Penn wrote the Charter of Privileges that became and, to this day, remained a bedrock for free authorities system around the globe.

The Slate Roof House in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Source: Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography,
Lovamahapaya Temple

Sri Lanka's Lovamahapaya was one of the most sumptuous and massive constructions in that area. Allegedly, Lovamahapaya Buddhist temple had nine floors, it was 150 ft high and had a total of 1600 pillars. Therefore, it represented an architectural masterpiece and the tallest building in the Sri Lanka area for over a millennium. Ornamentation with corals, jewels and other precious stones also made this construction stand out. Lovamahapaya's trademark was its copper roof with bronzed paneling. It was destroyed and rebuilt many times in fires or king's war escorts.

Lovamahapaya Temple in Sri Lanka.
Source: tatsuhu,
Taj Mahal

Crown of the Palace also known as Taj Mahal is a breathtaking mausoleum located in the city of Agra in India. Taj Mahal developed as an idea of the emperor Shah Jahan who wanted to build a unique tomb for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Jahan ruled from about 1628 to 1658, and the Mumtaz's tomb became a focus location of the entire Taj Mahal mosque. The building uses special white marble that combines elegance and firmness. The marble roof lets in the light on a central dome and is a focal point of the building. Taj Mahal is on the UNESCO'S World Heritage Site list and is one of the most magnificent architectural designs. The construction of Taj Mahal cost around 827 million dollars (adjusted to represent cost in 2015); precious ornaments, Persian elements, and expensive marble increased the price of India's jewel.

The Taj Mahal in India.
Source: Yann Forget,,_Agra,_India_edit2.jpg
The Chateau de Chateaudun

Placed in the City of Chateaudun, this castle is a typical representation of the transitional architectural style. The chateau faces the Loir river, and its construction and positioning remind of a typical fortress from the medieval period. Jean de Dunois, a son of Louis I, transformed the castle into a residence. Castle is famous for the Reinassaince staircase as well as gothic elements. Roof, for example, is one of the gothic notes in this construction.

Chateau de Chateaudun in France.
Source: Patrick GIRAUD,
Grand Palais

Grand Palais is museum located in Paris, France which features exhibition all hall and represents a significant historical site. Grand Palais followed the demolition of the Palace of Industry and construction work began in 1897. The palace has the main room 787 feet long which was a result of the London's Crystal palace architectural influence. The roof is one of the most enchanting parts of this construction; it is made of steel, glass, and iron. Therefore, it is one of the largest see-through buildings in Paris and also one of the last.

The roof of the Grand Palais in Paris, France.
History is hard to detain as stories change and new information comes out; this is why historic sites are crucial, and we should do everything in our power to protect them. They are the treasury of stories, artifacts, and written material that still has to be discovered. All elements of historic buildings provide insight into the socioeconomics of the time. They are a tangible reminder of our past for future generations to discover.

Certain periods in the history of architecture were given a trademark depending on the style of the roof. Historic roofs determined the overall style of the building and contributed to its classification. For instance, the Mansard roofs, Victorian's wide low roofs, Queen Anne turrets style are examples of major roof significance and proof of it being a crucial factor in design.

However, roofs should not be taken lightly as they are a sensitive element in the protection of housing that will, over time, inevitably experience problems. A wrongly installed roof or roof of low quality, will contribute to faster material deterioration and the building's structural decay. Issues that appear on a historic roof require an individual approach with measures of precaution. Before any job is done on the roof, contractors have to understand historical materials and engineering of the roofing system.

Roofs play an important role in maintaining heritage buildings
such as Government House in Winnipeg, which has stood for over 130 years.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society and Gordon Goldsborough, 
Before doing anything on the historic roof 

Historic roofs demand a unique approach that combines knowledge of historical materials, familiarization with historical methods and proper maintenance. Contractors should thoroughly examine the roof and find out if there were any previous repairs. They should also be informed and familiar with old methods of roofing and craftsmanship in order to understand the structure of the roof and building. Knowledge related to historical materials can significantly contribute to successful roof replacement or proper maintenance. This will allow contractors to pick the best tools equipment, coatings, and material for the particular historic structure. Having a supervisor on the job site can be helpful and turn roofers' attention to details so that the structure would preserve its aesthetics.

Proper maintenance; a key role in roof preservation

A brand new roof is mainly an object of function and beauty, but it is not likely it will obtain its beauty and remain protective without correct and thorough maintenance. Historic roofing systems should be inspected at least twice a year. Contractors should keep track of changes, problematic areas or any suspicious appearances on the roof. There should be strict guidelines related to foot traffic on historical roofs as it could significantly influence the firmness of the surface. Some roofing materials should be completely free of foot traffic, for instance, slate and clay roofs should use a ladder. The crucial compounds of the roofing systems such as gutters and downspout should also be given special attention. Gutters tend to block due to branches, leaves and debris accumulation in the spring or fall. Contractors should use latest technology and equipment to inspect and clean the inside of the gutter and downspouts. Each big storm should be followed by the inside inspection of the attic for early signs of leaking.

However, these are general guidelines to the maintenance of historical roofs. Each material requires a different approach in practice.

Slate roofing

Slate is one of the most elegant and quality roofing systems. This comes with a price, so slate roofing is a high-end roofing material and requires a significant financial investment. It is significantly resistant to leaking and fire; however, it is not entirely resistant to aging just like every other material.

When it comes to slate, attic and sheathing require inspection because of rotting and water staining. Contractors should pay special attention to critical spots like the intersection of planes, valleys, flashing and hips of the roof.  Gutters are a vital part of the slate roofing system, so they have to be regularly cleaned of any debris and blockages. Slate is high-end roofing material, so it requires an inspection every four to six years led by slate experts. It is a unique material, not artificially made so professionals should understand its ingredients and composition. Keeping a record of repairs and conditions can help contractors understand a history of repairs and allow them to make a better decision for maintenance methods.

The Dalry Cemetery Lodge in Edinburgh, Scotland, has a slate roof.
Source: Hamish Irvine,
Wood roofing

Wood is one of the oldest roofing material that is still in use today. However, wood shingles installation hundreds of years ago is completely different from today due to the development of technology. Modern-time contractors upgrade wood to be insect resistant and fireproof, which was then unimaginable.

Important wood maintenance guidelines include ensuring the roof is clear of debris. Contractors have to trim branches that could leave scratches behind, remove pine needles and leaves buildup on the roof. More demanding procedures include removing moss and lichen which can cause deterioration of the roof. Roofers often utilize a method of power washing in which an intense water pressure removes dead wood cells as well as debris. However, this process should be done by a professional since high water pressure can penetrate below the shingles or crack them. It is recommended that fungicide, pesticides or oils are applied to keep wood fresh and the roof looking well and in good condition. Application of various helpful coatings should be done every four to five years for efficient effect.

The wood roof of the Church of Saint Martin in Dolni Mesto, Czech Republic.
Source: Matej Bat'ha,
Metal roofing

Metal is another often used roofing material on historical roofs. It combines tensile strength and water resistance; however, there are several problems it could encounter. Most often problems are an erosion of the metal, penetration of the surface and loose seams and flashings.  It is important to realize that metal roofs are not easy to handle, therefore, contacting a professional is inevitable. There are various types of metal such as aluminum, steel, zinc, and copper which all have different properties. Copper roofs, for examples, were widely used in ancient times due to their stability, durability and beautiful patina it develops over time. Contractors stabilize historic metal roofs with an elastomeric coating, however, once the coating is applied it can't be removed. It is crucial to understand a particular type of metal and choose the right coating for a long lasting effect.

Thunderbird House in Winnipeg has a copper roof.
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation,
Roofs are a valuable feature of historic architecture and contribute to the determination of architectural style. They represent a particular time in history, people's needs and preferences of that period. Therefore, roofs are not solely compounds of historical shelters but tell a story of the particular moment in time. Preservation of those roofing systems shouldn't be neglected or put on hold, on the contrary, it should be a part of historic site conservation and maintenance as buildings would not be the same without it.